I have the privilege, twice a year, as an alumna of the Solstice Creative Writing MFA of Pine Manor program, to audit classes. This past Friday, I participated in an intimate community gathering in which Nicole Terez Dutton (poetry faculty) and Dr. Prabakar Thyaragajan (psychiatrist and poet) presented and led students, faculty and staff in a discussion of Writing as Balm, Armor and Resistance.
The Solstice group is diverse in gender, identity, age, and experience. United by the bond of writing, we are, as a group engaged, informed and sensitive to information and the world in which we live. To say that writers as a whole are more sensitive than most might be a stretch. Yet, I believe it to be true.
Writers read voraciously. Writers scan their universe, both wide and intimate, for the details of what is apparent and what is beneath the surface. Story, above all else draws us like a moth to flame. We watch on the subway, we listen at the train station, and in the coffee line at Peets. We observe couples, families, friends. Wired to story, we absorb and chronicle.
In this context, Nicole Terez Dutton set the stage to step back and identify all the variable assaults to our dignity as a nation, as a people of diversity, as a group of involved individuals struggling to live through and manage this wild, chaotic Trump era and its effects of what was once reliable and, for the most part, with precedence.
When she highlighted the U.S. Holocaust Museum’s 14 warning signs of Fascism and ticked them off, one by one, with incidents of this past year, we grasped the full sweep of the dangerous trajectory of leadership in our country.
We have to work against Fascism, we have to help each other to survive, she said.
In introducing Dr. Prabakar Thyaragajan, she said, we need strategies to be well, stay well, to be with each other.
In this spirit, I am grateful to share a brief account of Prabakar’s positivity philosophy of self- care.
- All creatures deserve to be happy; should is a terrible word
- Listen to the self; adopt gifting to the self; practice foregiveness of the self
I experienced delight when Prabakar said, the simplest way to listen to the self is to keep a journal (he keeps his on his phone, a novel idea to me). His directions to track sensations are simple and basic to the practice of mindfulness.
- keep a close ear to the ground; give weight to the everyday experience
- what does the first taste of morning coffee taste like? I am drinking my first cup as I write this: the taste is slightly bitter yet buttery sweet from the mix with coconut milk.
- what does the walk in air feel like?
- what does disgust feel like—i.e., I want to vomit when…
- include mixed feelings—I often struggle with ambivalence and find it helpful to write them out and reflect on the pluses and minuses.
- On foregiveness of the self :Not fair to judge thoughts and emotions which are not under our control. Okay to feel anger. Aggression is a choice.
Nicole ended with inviting the audience to respond and state how each of us are managing. Solstice writers stood and spoke out about their own struggle and efforts to bring self to the page, to speak to systems of oppression, to take on projects that are satisfying and not too demanding, to bring solace and sustained work to ourselves.
I shared how writing this gratitude blog sustains my creativity while trying to make a difference. I ask each of you reading today to add to the conversation. Please contribute your approach and point of view and write a comment!
I’m forever aware that as I’m aging, and I’ve just turned 80, I’m in love more and more with trees, flowers, the sky, moon, stars, the rivers, seas and all the beauty of nature surrounding me. I feel that there is a true virtue in transcendence, seeing and finding meaning beyond myself. Sometimes I have a religious experience where I feel close to G-D, and have, as Martin Buber expresses, an I-Thou experience, which
often is exhilarating. As an elder, I am able to revel in the treasures of existence, whereby as a younger person, I didn’t have enough experiences, nor the time, to reflect and appreciate my life as deeply. I also feel that I transcend myself when I help others, who happen to cross my path, to fulfill their dreams!
Bev, What a beautiful testimony to your spiritual journey and your joy in the natural world. It’s so true how finding meaning beyond oneself enhances our well-being. Your words are inspirational. Thank you!
Swimming under a bright Florida sun before partaking in a relaxing breakfast on our condo deck, sipping Peet’s rich, strong, hot coffee and viewing an occasional flying bird – I can’t always identify – helps me screen out nasty news of the day and savor the richness of my personal world.
Sheila, your sharp and evocative descriptions put me right into your scene. I could nearly taste the Peets! Watching a bird, wondering about its identity seems a fine way to connect to nurturing yourself. I hope you continue to have sunny days and great enjoyment.
Faye…the Solstice sounds like an energizing and thought provoking adventure. When you describe how writers “read voraciously…scan their universe, both wide and intimate”…i likened it to how i experience my foray into my latest adventure, learning to draw! i have found myself “scanning” objects for “what is beneath the surface”…looking at lines, shapes and deciding how to approach each drawing. It has provided me with some solace during this time of hateful speech and ugly denials. If I let in too deeply the horror of it all, i find myself paralyzed with fear and anger. So draw, draw, draw, is what my teacher has said and draw I have been, albeit not particularly well!
Pat, it is so like you to jump right in and engage with a new passion. With all that energy and effort, I’m certain you will improve your drawing skills over time.I can so relate, given my (often) frustration at not being able to create the rhythms of the music score as I practice on the keyboard over and over. Starting as a beginner at this stage in life takes such humbleness and courage, my friend, and you have quite a track record of both. Onward…..
Continuing physical expression and activity e.g. golf and intellectual pursuits like reading and writing are central as are contact with friends and certain groups are central for me. As sources of pleasure and meaning dwindle I nurture those still available. The current storm in my country ultimately requires political change and action. That is a challenge I’m attempting to meet in small ways which gives me hope that someday the order I value will be restored.
Thanks for your piece.
Hy, thank you for your most thoughtful and specific comment. There are so many ways one can manage the challenges of the “daily storm,” and it seems to me that you have the bases pretty well covered. I applaud your discernment and hope the time on Sanibel in the next few weeks brings you refreshment and replenishment to continue on with your “small ways” of effort to make a difference.
I like the clear, modest goal described this piece, “to live through and manage” ourselves in these turbulent times. I also like that the writers’ suggestions are not overwhelming–but simply put.
Thank you, Rosemary, for validating my intention— that is to present reasonably and with clarity. “Living through and manage,” one step at a time! Writing does help, doesn’t it!